Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Myers Park All-Comers 5k

1.5 mile w/u + strides
Target: 5k @2 minutes faster than Tim Rhodes
Actual: MRN 16:59.5; TR 18:59.3
1.5 mile c/d
Total: 6 miles

Yes, you read that correctly. My objective was to beat Tim by two minutes. I beat him by one minute, fifty-nine seconds and eight tenths of a second
. I couldn't have scripted a more nail-biting conclusion if I'd tried--except that if I did, obviously I would've amended the ending so that I kicked the last lap about three-tenths faster.

The race began at the conclusion of an already hectic day. I'd worked at RFYL for the morning and most of the afternoon, then headed to school to write my midterm exam. My professor was awesome and agreed to meet me 30 minutes early so that I'd have plenty of time to finish before the race began, but I still couldn't shake the vague nervous feeling that I was running behind schedule. As it turned out, I finished and made it over to MPHS with plenty of time to spare. I warmed up a bit with Paul and Billy--not too much, as there's really no need to do more than a few minutes when it's this warm and humid outside--and we all strategized our respective game plans. Paul hoped to go sub-16, while Billy wanted to break 17 minutes for the first time. I, of course, wanted to beat Tim by two or more minutes, and none of the three of us wanted to be lapped more than once by Jordan. It's good to have goals.

We were told upon our return that the 5k would go off around 7:45, which gave us plenty of time to make some final preparations. Caitlin, Jay and Aaron had showed up to watch, as had a few of my coworkers from RFYL and Tim's oldest son Grant. There may have been 20 other people on the track, but our showdown was the focal point of the evening (at least in my mind). We lined up against the setting sun on the far side of the track, listened to some final instructions, and were off.

First lap, tucked in comfortably behind Paul. Clearly this was the
high point of the race for me.

From the first few strides, I could tell I felt good. Jordan had immediately shot out to the front, but I came through the first lap tucked comfortably behind Paul in 77-point. At that moment I thought to myself that the race might not be too bad, that the heat and humidity wouldn't play as much of a factor as I'd initially feared. I was wrong. I came through the mile in 5:21 feeling decent but not great, but two laps later I would suffer the beginning stages of my implosion as the heat began to take its toll. The wheels were dangerously near coming off, and I felt the lack of workouts and hard running since Nationals catching up with me. Two miles came and went in 10:50, and I was in the hurt tank. I kept reminding myself that my time didn't matter; all that counted was the distance between myself and Tim.

Billy on my heels about halfway through the race.

Speaking of Tim, I caught up to him just a few minutes later and swung around him on the top of the turn. I estimated that lapping him meant I'd put about 90 seconds between us, and now the question was whether I could increase that increment by 30 more seconds in the final three and a half laps. I knew it would have to come from him slowing down, because there simply wasn't anything left in the tank to facilitate me speeding up. I was feeling worse than I had in any 5k in recent memory, and I wasn't even guaranteed to break 17 minutes. Brutal. With one lap to go I tried to feed off the encouragement of Caitlin and Jordan--he, of course, had already finished some time earlier--and kick it in. I saw the clock ticking upward as I ran down the final straightaway and managed to cross just under the 17-minute mark, exhausted and incredibly thirsty. Now there was nothing to do but wait and see what Tim could muster in the final few minutes. As he rounded the final turn, all who were watching knew it was going to be close. He was clearly giving it everything he had and going to the well, determination showing on his face. Still, I couldn't believe it when he crossed the finish line in 18:59, exactly two minutes after me. Only a comparison of the official post-decimal place times afterward confirmed that he had edged me out by a minuscule two-tenths. Unbelievable. Afterwards we shook hands and ran a few cooldown laps together; one of us victorious, one defeated, both relieved to have the battle behind us.

Finishing. Hurt tank.

In hindsight, and not to sound like a sore loser (too much), I believe a few amendments should have been made to the nature of our agreement in order to truly level the playing field. First is the matter of lapped runners. I would say that of the 20 people in the field, I lapped 12. Of the 12, I double lapped 6. Of the 18 lapping incidents, only one person moved out of the way. (Not that I expect them to at this type of meet; I'm just stating the facts.) So, in other words, there were 17 times when I had to step outside my line of motion and add on a small fraction of distance in order to go around someone else. You may say that's just the nature of racing, and I agree with that. But in a scenario when you're racing someone else against a very specific time on the clock, those increments add up. Secondly, I wish there could've been a way for me to start behind Tim and then spend the entire race attempting to reel him in. And by that, I mean a way other than me standing at the starting line looking like a doofus for two minutes after everyone else had taken off. Because, as my heartbreaking final lap in the 10k at Nationals so aptly illustrated, it's much easier to catch someone in the final few meters when they are a visible target in front of you. I didn't have that opportunity tonight.

Overall, objections notwithstanding, this was an absolute blast. I don't necessarily mean the 17 minutes that I was actually racing, because those were brutal, but rather the nature of the friendly wager between myself and Tim. It's great to work for someone who not only shares my appreciation for the sport but is also not afraid to challenge himself and push both of us to be better runners. Plus, it's not exactly like I lose anything by having to take his job for a day. That just means I get to come in late, avoid phone calls from customers, take several two-hour lunches and then sneak out the back when I'm ready to go home. If that's all it takes to keep RFYL running smoothly, then I think I've got it covered.